Congregants at Sherith Israel’s first in-person Shabbat service of the pandemic, June 18, 2021. (Photo/Natalie Schrik)
Congregants at Sherith Israel’s first in-person Shabbat service of the pandemic, June 18, 2021. (Photo/Natalie Schrik)

More Bay Area synagogues are going mask-optional

A growing number Bay Area synagogues are doing away with their mandatory mask requirements as Covid-19 cases dwindle and public health officials revise mask-wearing guidelines in various indoor settings.

They’re also allowing noshing to take place indoors once again.

On March 11, for example, San Francisco congregations Beth Sholom and Sherith Israel held their first Shabbat evening services at which masks were not required. However, masks are still strongly encouraged, noted Gordon Gladstone, Sherith Israel’s executive director.

“We are planning to serve food, including at Purim,” Gladstone added in a March 10 email to J.

Along with masks, Sherith Israel previously had required congregants to show proof of full vaccination in order to participate in indoor worship. That is no longer required.

At Beth Sholom, a Conservative congregation celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, masks are no longer required indoors, though the reopening task force still is requiring verbal health attestations of vaccination or proof of a recent negative Covid test result for everyone 12 and older.

“Food will be served for Kiddush or other events,” the task force said in a March 10 email to members.

It’s about health, and it’s about people’s comfort and perception.

At Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel, the mandatory wearing of masks has been eased in most indoor settings. But the Modern Orthodox synagogue “will continue to require universal masking at high-density gatherings on a case-by-case basis, or if smoke [from outdoors] requires us to close our windows,” CBI’s reopening committee said in a March 2 email. Kiddush gatherings will remain outdoors for the time being, though indoor options will be offered occasionally, such as during inclement weather or after small gatherings.

At The Kitchen in San Francisco, masks have become optional during outdoor programming as of March 12. The independent congregation also restarted its Saturday lunches, which for the time being are being held outside, as are prayer services. All Kitchen-hosted events require proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test.

At Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, masks are still required for indoor services “at least until Passover,” Rabbi Mark Bloom told J. by email. The Conservative synagogue has never required proof of vaccination to attend services, he added.

Masks are still required for the time being at Or Shalom Jewish Community, San Francisco’s Reconstructionist synagogue.

“We are taking incremental steps forward,” Rabbi Katie Mizrahi told J. She noted that the synagogue has created new protocols for synagogue events held in members’ homes, but “we are not yet unmasking indoors. One step at a time.”

Mizrahi said the synagogue is eager to get back to hugging, eating indoors and enjoying face-to-face interactions without masks, but psychologically, not everyone is ready to move in that direction just yet.

“It’s about health, and it’s about people’s comfort and perception,” she said.

“We are hopeful another month will go by, and we’ll be ready.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for KTVU Fox 2 News. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.